What is Idolatry of the Heart?

Idolatry of the heart is giving anything other than Jesus the place of preeminence in our hearts. It is critically important for us to recognize that an idol can be anything we give greater devotion to than we do to Jesus. Simply put, an idol is whatever or whoever you and I give ultimate value to in our lives.

Since an idol can be anything or anyone that we give ultimate value to in our lives, then an idol could be…

  • A house
  • A car
  • A job
  • A hobby
  • A position
  • Money
  • Sports
  • Family (spouse or children)
  • Comfort
  • TV
  • Sex
  • Possessions
  • Food
  • Pleasure
  • Power
  • Then there is perhaps the greatest idol of all, the idol of self.

Here is what’s hard about recognizing these things as idols. None of these things are inherently evil. In fact, as we look at this list, we recognize that most of them are good things. It’s not that this is a list of evil things that we need to put out of our lives. Instead, it’s a list of good things that we can make evil by becoming so devoted to them that we make them into idols that compete with Jesus as the primary object of our devotion and affection. Good things become evil things when they are made ultimate things.

A blog I frequently read had an article on how to find the idols in your life. Here is part of what the article said. “Idols are sneaky. They tip toe past our brains, set up shop in a corner of our heart, and begin to grow. Most of the time we don’t even notice because we’ve fallen in love with the idol—it’s become part of what drives us and makes us (momentarily) happy.” The article then goes on to give a “test” to see where your idols might lie. Think through these questions.

  1. What do I worry about most?
  2.  What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?
  3.  What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?
  4.  What do I do to cope? What are my release valves? What do I do to feel better?
  5.  What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about?
  6.  What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?
  7.  What do I lead with in conversations?
  8.  Early on what do I want to make sure that people know about me?
  9.  What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?
  10.  What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?
  11.  What is my hope for the future?[1]

Over the summer, I heard a sermon that focused on this form of idolatry and the preacher said that whatever sin we struggle with the most is a symptom of idolatry. The pastor said, “Because the human heart was made to worship someone outside itself, it continually seeks a place to rest.  It seeks an object on which to set its hope.  We simply must go to something or someone to feel at peace.  Scripture teaches that we human beings will ultimately look to God or to something or someone else, be it achievement, relationships, family, status, popularity or even a hobby to make us feel socially connected, personally significant and emotionally secure.  And whatever or whoever we look to to pursue, that will drive everything else in our lives.”[2]

So what drives what you do? What is the driving force of your life? When you answer that question, you will find what the central value in your life is. This is what you give the greatest amount of devotion to. If this driving force, this object of devotion, isn’t Jesus then it’s an idol and this idol will keep you from knowing Jesus.

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:26-27 (NKJV)

He went on to say, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:33 (NKJV)

One of the things that these commands teach us is that Jesus doesn’t take the backseat to anyone or anything in our lives. He is to be the supreme object of devotion. We are to be more devoted to Him than we are to friends, family, jobs, ourselves, our comfort, our pleasure, even our very lives. He says that if we are not willing to forsake anything at His command and for His sake then we cannot be His disciples. In the Gospels, Jesus allowed those who found Him to be too demanding to walk away and many did.

This is why idols of the heart keep us from Jesus. They keep us from giving Jesus the level of devotion that He demands and deserves. Once we recognize the idols in our lives, we have a choice to make. Be devoted to Jesus or be devoted to our idols. We have to choose because we cannot be devoted to both.

For further study read Mark 10:17-31. How did Jesus feel about this young man? What did Jesus demand of this young man? What did Jesus offer this young man? What was this young man’s attitude as he went away? What point did Jesus make to the disciples after the young man went away?


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